Saturday, 30 June 2007

The local Co-op

It's Saturday, and there's no breakfast for me.

Dig has eaten the last crumpet and Tiger has eaten my muesli. Or rather, she has hand-picked out all the nuts, seeds and fruity bits and has left a packet of oat flakes behind. That's not too appetising, actually, hand-turned oat flakes. There's still an issue about handwashing after visiting the toilet in this house, so I'm not chancing them. There are three packs of Cheerios, which Squirrel managed to get from me last week in Tesco despite me having said I will never ever buy any cereals like that, ever. Ever. So don't ask.

Anyway, Squirrel knows how to play her cards right. That and Tesco's bogof offer, which ensures product flies off the shelves, so better take four packs now because the offer ends on Sunday. I of course do not endorse and never fall for marketing gimmicks like this, but things are a bit tight round here right now. I told myself, and Squirrel, that the 25% sugar content would be a useful energy rush on Saturdays when she needs to run about, trying to hit a tennis ball that's being carefully aimed at her racquet in her tennis lesson. I shouted this at the checkout so everyone would know I am not a bad mother feeding sugar muck to her kids because she has been sweet-talked into it by a Squirrel and because it is cheap. I'm not sure anyone would have heard anyway there, what with the packs of Cheerios being slapped down on conveyor belts all around me, and the noise from the plastic bags, tills, and trolleys.

Well today I've been up since 7.30 and I've had no breakfast. And I'm not going to Tesco, partly because they will force me to buy cheap sugar muck, but also because I'm feeling I need to be very carbon neutral now, having driven Tiger backwards and forwards to her violin lesson already today. I feel the need for an ethical walk to the Co-op.

There are three tills at our local Co-op. I've never seen all three of them used at the same time, no matter how long the queue. They have two working today. And I bet the job description for working at the Co-op must be that employees should be extremely elderly and slow. Particularly, they should be moving at glacial speed when using the tills, or managing to get the things not to work at all, which is what happens in today's shopping trip.

Sandra, grey-haired and dumpy, looking like she's had too many children and not enough grand-children, is hammering the buttons on her till and with each strike she utters a tut. After a few minutes of this, she mutters something to herself, then shouts over to the other checkout lady called Vi. Vi is short and round with white hair and glasses, which are on a string round her neck. She has a sucked-in mouth, like she's forgotten to put her teeth in this morning. Vi squeezes past the tills, and the displays, through the customer queue which parts to let her pass, and walks slowly to the door marked 'Staff'.

All the while, the queue of customers is steadily growing, up the aisle and past the sugar. We're all standing there, with one or two items for a Saturday morning. Most are elderly. There's a shrunken lady with dark brown dyed hair, a shock of sudden mahogony over her wrinkled face. There's an elderly gentleman with a corkscrewed spine, leaning on a stick, and a bent-double lady with a three-wheeled walking aid taking up all the room by the first till, still waiting to pay. Behind me there's a young man, with his can of coke, sighing.

After a few minutes two ladies emerge from the door marked 'Staff'. Vi brings out Dot, who looks like the Co-op stores were built around her so she stayed since the day they opened. She has a curving, sloping walk, and looks like she needs some sort of walking assistance to keep her going in the right direction. They very slowly walk over to the tills, Dot making hand gestures to the air as she worries about her husband, Bob, who's doing badly. She had to call the doctor to him, and he ended up in hospital again, like she told him he would.

When Vi and Dot reach the tills, there's some more muttering and punching of buttons and the till bursts open. There's a bit of a clap from a bloke in the queue by the tea who's wearing a vest and looks like he's doing a morning shift at the engineering works in the town. The slow hand clap's accompanied by bit of sniggering from two teenagers with a packet of doughnuts and some instant coffee. The chap behind me heaves a deep sigh of relief. Because we now have three tills, and three checkout ladies. Things are looking up.

Not for long. With not a word to the growing line of customers with shuffling feet, Dot starts to make her slow and curving way back, round the back of the tills, past the display of South African wines, 3 for £10, and through the queue of customers. The elderly gentleman with a walking stick in front of me smiles at her and dutifully moves to let her through. He probably knows what it is to have to walk like Dot. The chap behind me can't take any more. He throws his can of Coke into a basket of chocolate and saunters from the Co-op, shaking his head.

After 20 minutes I pay for my loaf of bread and punnet of reduced plums and walk back home, sure I've got a twinge of back pain after standing so long and looking forward to breakfast at last. And I make a resolution that Squirrel will have to abandon Tesco for a while and stand with me in the queue at the Co-op so she can learn about patience, and Sandra, and Vi, and Dot.

Friday, 29 June 2007

One for copyeditors

I have to be back at work for today, so Ermintrude is looking after Shark, Squirrel and Tiger at the park.

First up, the corrections sent in last month by Author X in response to my list of queries on the references in their book. The references were torture. To copyedit and typeset this lot I waded my way through about 300 of them, all out of order, and none in standard style requested for submisson. Here are two that came through:

Janet rothbury & James Weston lake et al. 1992. Developing critical literacy. James Unworth., CUP (Teaching Language Worldwide) Cambridge. 231-241. pp

Rothbury, Janet Mary. (1990). Literacy principles. Cambrisde, Mass. Harvard UP. [reprinted ISBN 9671-98556-21 ed Burns]

The first glance at these, and the other hundreds like them, tells me Author X is an idle git who cannot be bothered to put his references in order. He expects someone else to do it. Perhaps he is too great, and got a PhD student to do it, but the PhD student was too lazy, or lied, and so it lands on my desk. But I still have to get his refs into publisher's style:

Rothbury, J. M., Weston Lake, J. et al. (1992) Developing critical literacy. In J. Unworth (ed.) Book title 231-41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rothbury, J. (1990) Literacy Principles. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Now, information is missing like the 'et al.' and book title. Or information is confusing, like the status of 'Lake' - is it a surname or forename? Then there's the confusion over Rothbury's name. Are they the same author? Or two people who just happen to share the same name? The confusion needs to be cleared to I can order the refs correctly. Then there is extra information, like series titles, or reprint information, which may not be included in the references.

So I do as much cleaning up as possible. But at some point I ask Author X for clarification.

You might think Author X would be grateful that someone in an office somewhere in central England is doing the work they couldn't be bothered to do, so their book can be published in time for their RAE professional assessment, and from that they can get their recognition, promotion and, of course, their royalties. You might think Author X could see how much cleaning work has been done, and assist with the last sweep.

Not a bit of it. Here is just a selection of some of the actual responses I got from Author X to my questions about the following authors...

J? J is only name given; no further info available
Butlers - I don't care
Frith - can't see what clarification is needed
Grigory - is this you John?
Hallan - yes
Hopkin -no further info to hand
Idime - why?
Jenkin - stop asking about series titles
Keel - ridiculous question
Natim - what is the problem???
Nartim - 2000a change to 2000a
Nartim - I won't answer this anymore
Stiglin - Nothing to clarify
Propper - dunno
van Leeu - fadded

Well, Author X, I have something more important to do right now than correct your references. Like the ironing. I'm sorry your book won't make it in time for your RAE exercise. And perhaps your recognition will come in due course.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

End of the fridge

We come home from being Tudors and the fridge has disappeared. I discover this when I try to put away some cheese. Dig says it is not stolen, but swapped for a freezer. He says that last week he went to John Lewis, and while me and the junior Grits were all cavorting around on Tudor lawns the delivery men arrived and did the swap. They took the fridge, and left us with the freezer. This is a relief.

Me and Dig don't actually get the chance to talk much. When we need to talk about things like why the accounts haven't been filed since 2004, we try to sneak to the office next door. However, the office has become a site of struggle since May thanks to the nesting blue tits, and the constant stream of children in and out to see daddy blue tit fetch mealy worms for the babies. Thus, just about every conversation me and Dig try to snatch about important things like accounts and fridges is constantly interrupted.

Actually, as an aside, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have been interrupting every conversation since February 2000, at first with sustained wahahwhahaha or snuffly noises, and now with rubbish about why horses need swimming lesssons and who's stolen the tiara and who has thumped whom and why nothing's fair.

Anyway, between Squirrel's demands to go on a bike ride, Tiger's complaint that it's not Friday, and Shark demanding her tiara back, I gather from Dig that last week he bought a freezer because he was unable to bear the fridge any longer, and feared his reputation if Ermintrude photographed the inside and stuck it up on an au pair website with the caption, 'This is what you're in for'.

Now it is difficult to describe the inside of the fridge, and I fully agree that the best way to get it discreetly removed is to buy something else from John Lewis because they take the old one away. We have another fridge in the office which is disgusting because it's never cleaned, but it is not a patch on the one that's just gone.

The problem started when Dig bought a washing machine, so I'll blame him for the state of the fridge. The front of the washing machine bows out and, being adjacent to the fridge, prevented the fridge door from opening properly. At first I threw a dishcloth in there to mop up the spilled orange juice, but I couldn't reach the cheese crumbs, nor the upturned jar of moulding peanut sauce, nor the spreading oily layer from the green pesto jar, nor the toffee someone put in there and which glued itself to the shelving. The whole interior started to resemble some sort of industrial waste site: the orange juice gradually turning brown; green stains dribbling in sticky lines down the insides; crusty layers of unreachable vegetable off-cuts frostily gluing themselves to unfathomable parts. The soil, Hama beads and snowman's head didn't help. In fact, after a few months, there was no clean patch of white plastic left at all.

Then last week the worst happened. And for Dig, the final straw. A whole open carton of Tesco tomato passata got pushed in there and knocked against the back wall. It exploded. Now I'm not sure what the inside of Idi Amin's fridge looked like, but I bet it was pretty gruesome. Well, our fridge looked like that. Stick a cabbage head in there, with the tomato sauce sprayed all around and the cheese deposits growing underneath with bits of dead carrot sticking out of them like finger ends, and you have a pretty good idea about our fridge.

So the fridge is gone, and a freezer is in its place. Not plugged in, mind, because that would be pointless. Because next comes the difficult part. Dig argues that he's decided we need a fridge in the kitchen after all, and not a freezer. There is nowhere to put butter except for the fridge in the office, and that's a long walk for some butter. So he says we must take out the old fridge from the office, clean it up, and swap it for the new freezer, thus making it pointless using the freezer, because it will soon move.

There's only one problem to this plan. To get the fridge out of the office, and to get the freezer in we would need to clear a pathway.

I will leave the office to your imagination. Suffice to say the last time a vacuum cleaner was in there was 1998. I haven't actually seen the carpet since 2001. Punching a hole in the wall and exchanging the fridge and freezer through that seems a simpler option than suggesting to Dig we have an office tidy up.

Or we could just live with an unplugged freezer in the kitchen. And accept that this was the price we had to pay for getting rid of Idi's fridge.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Tudor life

We get told off. First because not everyone in our group is in costume. At this point, I am secretly relieved that five Tudor costumes emerged from the Grit sewing machine at speed.

But sadly, it's still not enough. We are not going to enjoy ourselves, and we are very disappointing, says the stern, down-the-nose lady with the Barbour and clipboard who is in charge of mustering our group, as if we couldn't recognise each other without her. I bet her grandfather was something big in the Empire. She stands very straight and tall, even in green wellies sunk into the mud, and tells us we must divide into little groups and stay there, and if we dawdle, we will be Sent Out.

I wonder if she can see that most of our home education group is aged over eight. Probably not, because she continues to reprove us, starting with the claim that never before in the history of the mid-week Kentwell Hall Tudor Reenactment programme have visitors not turned up in costume. She then says we will stop everyone from enjoying themselves, and that we have diluted the impact for everybody, so we should jolly well think about what we have done and be ashamed. And what's more, she snorts, we are not now to fool around, dawdle, straggle or spend all our time asking questions. If we do, we will be very inconvenient.

I'd like to say that was the end of the admonishments, but no. End of Empire marches us over to a weasley looking chap called Gram, who's organising regimented toilet attendance. Gram insists everyone go to the toilet, even if they say they do not want to go. 'Go now!' he orders. 'There are no toilets inside. You cannot come out' he snaps. Well, matey, I think, half of us are going to be Sent Out for dawdling, so really we could use the toilets then. When there's still resistance to using the portaloos I ask Gram if he'd try and squeeze out any wee from us, just to be sure we're not hiding any wee illegally. I don't think answers to questions like that appear on his clipboard.

After Gram we are ordered to wait until another stern lady chaperone with a clipboard can deal with us. She reprimands us for standing in the wrong place and talking, and then repeats all the rules again. How we must not wander about, how we can't use toilets ever again, how we are not to bump into the walls of the time tunnel because we will knock it over, how, if we're naughty or dawdling, we will be Sent Out.

Thank goodness we can escape the twenty-first century down the blacked-out chipboard corridor grandly called the 'time tunnel'. But at the other end, the Tudor age is wonderful. Not at all like I've feared. David Starkey has clearly got it all wrong. It's not at all smelly or dirty or incomprehensible. There are no hideous disfiguring diseases, no dismembered bodies strung up as a warning to betrayers or dawdlers, and no dangers from politicking courtiers and scheming monarchs. Just a lot of very wonderful reenactors who completely know their stuff, are immaculately dressed, perfectly mannered, wonderfully informative and generous in their time and patience.

And so, because we are in a Tudor Golden Age, we dawdle; we amuse ourselves by being foolish on the lawn; we ask too many questions and we have a wonderful few, escapist, hours. By the end of the afternoon I could almost believe I could live there forever, so long as I don't need a toilet, ever again.

What a disappointment when we're hastened out again to the twenty-first century. Not only do I have to give up being a Tudor lady larking about on the lawns, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are much better behaved in the sixteenth century than they are in the twenty-first. That alone is a good enough reason to keep us all there.

So my message to the Kentwell Hall organising team is that you completely failed in your mission to make us have a miserable time.

And we're coming back next year.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

To Suffolk

It's the day we set off to stay with Big Bro, who lives in Suffolk, and who can provide a place to stay for a couple of days while we cavort around in Kentwell dressed as Tudor maids.

The first part of the journey is hell. Tiger does nothing but chant that she hates everyone and makes to throw herself out the car around Bedford because she says Shark wants her to, so she will. Honestly, I'm begining to think about psychotherapy for that one. Tiger can be beautifully charming when she's a mind, but that cute face is just a front for something that resembles Mount St Helens.

We detour to visit Grimes Graves because I love that place, the quietness of it, the hollows and the histories, and possibly want to be scattered there if English Heritage wouldn't mind. If they put up a fight, Dig will have to scatter me on the quiet, and claim he's just popping round the back of the shop for a wee, because there's no public toilet.

Anyway, after Grimes Graves we're back in the car with Mount St Helens to see if we can make it to the Henge, where Big Bro lives, without loss of life or further incident.

The Henge is a village in Suffolk. There isn't much there, so don't visit. No shop. No gas. No bus, except on Wednesday. But there is a spare room for us, and a blow up mattress. Which is just as well, because I discover that the blow up mattress we've brought has a hole the size of a fingernail in it.

But we've arrived, safely at that, and Big Bro is as crazy as he was before, obsessing about fat and claiming he's going to give up eating for the good of his health. When he's not obsessing about that, it's the contents of the garage, which he's threatening to take to the tip next week if it doesn't disappear in the meantime. He has a reason, mind. Big Bro is living his youth years now he's in middle age and bought himself a Porche, which sits on the drive in the rain because what's in the garage is a floral pink and green sofa and a matching pouffe.

And so it's to bed. We blow up our double mattress for Shark and Squirrel who watch it deflate at speed, thanks to the hole. I tell them they won't be giggling about it in the morning. And just as well Big Bro keeps a spare in the garage, along with the sofa and pouffe. Soon enough, Squirrel and Shark are both fast asleep after the enforced march round my future resting place, Mount St Helen's snoring in her sleeping bag next to me, and Ermintrude's installed in the front room with a duvet. Me, I go to sleep dreaming of the peace and quiet at Grimes Graves.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Parking rights

The orange light is permanently on at the petrol gauge on the dashboard, so it's time to fill up at the service station. And for some reason, there are lots of queues. So I dutifully park in line 7 where we are next in line for the pump, and I can chat to Ermintrude about how I might say in French, 'I have no money, could you pay for the petrol?'

While we are waiting, the man in front of me wants to reverse. Tsk, I think, he's just too impatient to wait for the man in front of him to come back from the shop after paying and drive on. Tsk Tsk. How impatient.

I reverse anyway, and give him a good space to come out. Then a man in a van suddenly drives straight ahead of me, into the space I just made. This is too much. I am enraged. I leap out of the car and shout 'Why am I here?' I start to gabble. 'I'm reversing! I have reversed because he reversed! And he reversed to get out! So I reversed! You stole my space!'

I can hear Ermintrude tittering nervously, sat in the passenger seat. As I'm gesticulating and demanding, pointing at the van and the space that's not there, I'm thinking, this is nothing, Ermintrude. Really. You should have been there the day outside John Lewis when I was forced to begin the campaign against people who do not have children, yet who park in parent and child spaces.

Now I reckon I am not the only parent who is upset by this inconsiderate behaviour. There are probably websites of rage dedicated to the gits who park in parent and child spaces when they clearly have no children. This is how my campaign started.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger were less than a year old. They were still in their triplet buggy, and it was no small matter to push that thing with three fattened baby dollops in it. Especially in the cold, sleeting rain, in the darkening afternoon skies of December. And through a car park at that, because like most car parks outside shopping centres, there's no pedestrian walkway, and if there is, the triple buggy - at the width of a mini - is too wide to get down it. I'd already sat in my car, opposite a parent and child space outside the store, waiting for an occupant to leave, and then they indicated no, so off I went, returning 20 minutes later, wet and exhausted with the walk from the far side of the car park, with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger complaining and kicking, fussing about the rainhood which it's taken me 10 minutes to fit.

And what do I see? A sleek black Mazda, sitting in the parent and child space I'd waited for. I looked inside. Immaculate. No biscuit crumbs. No food rotting in the upholstery. No chewed toys, hanging from the rear seats. No baby seats. No Mr Floppy Bear hanging with his paw trapped in the door. No blankies, wet wipes, teething rings, buggy scratches. No evidence of any child at all. That did it.

It was a sacrifice Shark had to make. Despite the cold and the rain, I got her out from her seat, pulled down her Baby Gaps and ripped her nappy off. Then I squished that sodden stinking nappy underneath the windscreen wiper.

I did that until all the children were out of nappies. And when everyone was happy on the toilet, I carried around a pack of nappies in the back of the car specifically for the purpose. I never got to see the pay-off, the look of horror on the owners of those Mazdas and Mercs and upmarket cars with their clean upholstery. But I did get the gratification of hearing the contents of toddler bottoms slide across the windscreens.

So believe me, Ermintrude, asking a man to move his van is nothing, really. And he reversed it and let me have my space back. As of course I'd expect of any decent, considerate citizen.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

What date is it?

I am a bad, bad mummy. Today, I did not get Squirrel to her rehearsal for her dance performance. Twig is very upset. Squirrel is a cloud and has to be blown across the stage next week, and if she is not here to be blown about, says Twig, then she cannot learn to twirl in the right place.

I could, in my defence, say that I assumed I would not be able to find the rehearsal schedule on my desk, because I can never find anything there, so couldn't be bothered to look for it and check the dates. This would not go down well, so I tell another truth.

I am very apologetic. I say I am sorry we missed Squirrel's rehearsal. Actually we went to the woods today because I thought that there was a fairy walk organised by the local parks department. When we arrived there was only a man who hastened away from me when I asked him if he knew anything about the fairies. When we got home I discovered that I had read the calendar wrong and the fairy walk is on the 24th of July and not the 24th of June. And that's when I discovered we had missed the rehearsal to blow Squirrel about the stage.

You see, I have an inability to handle days of the weeks, months of the years, and time, in general.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

A sewing day

I am happily making costumes for next week's home education outing to the Tudor reenactment at Kentwell Hall in Suffolk. Squirrel, Shark and Tiger get to dress up in Tudor costume for the day. So do me and Ermintrude. And I'm making the costumes myself, with fabric at 50p a bit from the local scrapstore, a pattern adapted from a princess costume, and some not inconsiderable research into paintings of women from the 1480s through to 1600. This is all a very big thing in the Grit household, because we are historians. And I like sewing, even though I am not very professional when I set about it equipped with some rusty pins, a pair of nail scissors, some masking tape and the glue gun, and despite my sewing career more or less ending at school when the sewing teacher said I was rubbish and I had better do art.

However, I enjoy costume making, even if I am rubbish at it. I like making something from nothing, and within an hour I can have a costume that can walk about, strapped onto a Shark, or a Squirrel, or a Tiger. Even better, I like to make the costumes quickly, and cannot be fussed about the details. The impact matters; the theatre of the thing. I make the shape happen and get the hem folded up in seconds then slam my foot on the pedal of the sewing machine. I try and shortcut as much as possible, bodge, be resourceful, and make it do. Usually, the result will be suddenly theatrical, and fine for dressing up in until it all falls apart or the stitching loosens. In this way I've happily made a red dragon, zebra fish, lorry, green man of the woods, Bouddicca, a bunch of grapes, an ice cream, a slice of chocolate cake, three medieval princesses and a beggar.

So five Tudor outfits should be straightforward. And the day would have proceded happily enough too, if only Tiger hadn't put a mixture of paint and PVA glue on the toilet seat, if Shark hadn't gone bonkers over a doll leg and Squirrel had not become enraged by Shark and had not chanted 'Shark is an idiot' for 30 minutes while hiding under the school room table. Without these minor interruptions, the day would have gone splendidly.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Pasta, pasta or pasta?

Ermintrude might have only been here a week but I've exhuasted my cooking repertoire. This is bad news.

In a sad effort to impress our new house visitor I've been working hard and cooking everything but pasta. I've done the baked potato and garlic beans. I did the tortilla and fruity cous cous. Then I did the stew, and the cheesy rice, which is basically rice with cheese in it. The kids have been half starved, waiting for the pasta and tomato sauce to appear, so I've had to keep them quiet with a choice of breakfast cereals and frequent hand outs of buns. But now I'm exhausted with cooking and thinking, and unless I embark on a tour of the cookery book shelves, my repertoire's run out and the kids are at death's door. So today, it's pasta.

The sad thing is, that once we get onto the pasta highway, there's no turning back. Ermintrude will soon realise this. On day one, she'll think it's novel. Pasta and tomato sauce! C'est superb! How she'll come to realise, then, that pasta is a state of mind. On day two of next week, we'll tumble into the house, late from somewhere and, I'll think, we're all starving, what can I cook in 20 minutes? Pasta, that'll do. Then on day three I can't be bothered, so pasta will be easy. The fact that we had pasta two days running won't make any difference by day four, when we're in a hurry, so I'll suggest to Dig that he surprises us with one of his two recipes. It'll be spaghetti, of course, with a tomato sauce. 'Aha!' I'll say to Ermintrude. 'This is different from my pasta! This meal has a name! We call it Daddy Spaghetti!' Then Ermintrude won't think it's all quite so superb. Quietly, she'll be off down to Tesco, sneaking in the back way with some little food parcel for herself that she can keep under the bed for the thin weeks ahead.

Of course I could always start on a tour of the cookery book shelves. In the kitchen there are three shelves full and a folder crammed full of Mark Hix. But I know what will happen if I do delve into this lot. For a start I might choose mozzarella and aubergine on a bed of saffron rice. But then saffron's too expensive of course, and we don't have much rice, so let's substitute the pasta for that, then I could put something on the table that the kids like. Oh dear, we don't have any aubergines, and I can't be bothered to go out and get some. There isn't time, anyway. Let's substitute a couple of tins of tomatoes for the aubergine, shall we? Now for the mozzarella. Shark says she prefers grated cheddar cheese over her pasta and tomato sauce.

'Eat up!' I'll say as I put my new recipe down on the kitchen table. The kids will be delighted and Ermintrude will look glum and contemplate her food parcel. And I'll think it's a cooking triumph to have any food there at all.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Midsummer Storytelling

We're all off to the park to listen to the storytellers. This is Midsummer Storytelling, and we all think it's a jolly imaginative thing to do, even though it's raining, and cold, and we're wrapped up in blankets, complaining about it being June and not April.

The storytelling is fun, too, even though the storytellers make us walk around a bit so I have to keep rolling up the groundsheet I've brought along to stop Squirrel complaining that her bottom's wet. And the storyteller doesn't throw us in the lake, like he threatened to do last week.

I'm not sure he was joking, actually. I walked down to the library last Tuesday with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to return the overdue books that should've been returned the previous Friday, but we weren't here, and the library's shut on Mondays. When I get in, the kids all run off to look for fairy books and I spot Bal, the local storyteller, standing in the queue to return his copy of War and Peace. I seem to have known Bal a very long time, some 15 years, although I feel he regards me with suspicion, like he thinks I might be up to something, and he doesn't know what. This always makes me wonder if I am up to something, but I don't know what. If I was up to something, I wouldn't tell him. I'm sure he suspects that. So he's cautious with me, and I'm cautious with him.

But we're polite, of course. I ask Bal if he's involved in the Midsummer Storytelling that we've just booked tickets for. He says he is, but he doesn't know what stories to tell yet. Then he spies that I am clutching a thick stack of fairy books to return. 'Perhaps we could tell stories about evil fairies', he suggests. I laugh and say that would be a good idea because it might put my children off wanting the rubbish I have to read, what with 'Strawberry cup cake fairy' who's lost her strawberry cup cake, and 'Buttercup fairy' who cries when her favourite buttercup got picked.

Then he doesn't smile, but says he doesn't know whether to tell the stories to a large group or to lots of small groups. He adds that if we were in his group he might take everyone to the lake and throw them in.

Now I am starting to think he doesn't really like me again, suggesting gratuitously that he would throw me in the lake. But since I am a self deprecating sort of person I suggest I might throw myself in anyway. Then I think I've insulted him, suggesting I'd throw myself in the lake rather than listen to his storytelling. He eyes me with suspicion then.

It always seems to go like this. I recall that when we met him at the Bumblebees and Dragonflies do he suggested sticking our heads on poles. So I said I might have to get the triplets to do that to him first. And then in the woodland walk he said he was going to hide behind the trees, jump out and scare everyone, so that we'd all run away. I suggested I might have a sharp stick to stab ambushers and highwaymen.

Perhaps we just don't like each other. Or perhaps when we see each other our imaginings always get the better of us.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Ermintrude goes swimming

It is Wednesday. Usually that means misery because it is swimming day. But not today. Because Ermintrude is here. I can feel a gloat the size of the Midlands spreading over me right now.

I say, innocently, 'Dear Ermintrude, would you like to go swimming today with the children?' I tell her that going swimming would be a lovely cultural experience to have in la belle Angleterre. Indeed, going swimming is a perfect opportunity to learn a lot of useful English. In the reception to the leisure centre you would overhear the staff talk to each other and you would learn conversational phrases like 'F*** off. I'm not f***ing doing the extra f***ing shift.' Then in the changing rooms you would overhear useful idiomatic expressions like 'Where's the f***ing cossy?' Then there are the notices to read all about swimming in someone else's bathwater. You would even benefit from some sociolinguistic material. Listen to Fish instruct the children. She says 'R-i-i-i-i-ght' in a very drawn out way, which really means, 'Are you being bolshy again because if you are I'm going to ignore you'.

I think at this point Ermintrude was trying to tell me that she would rather stab herself in the head than go swimming, but unfortunately I could not understand Ermintrude's English, and my limited French seemed to fail me totally. So I said 'That's settled then', and bundled Ermintrude and her swimming costume in the car with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

I cannot tell you whether Ermintrude enjoyed the experience. All I can say is that tonight she has been on the phone to her parents for 50 minutes and has checked the timetable of the trains back to Francois in London three times now. Perhaps I could find out what she really thinks when I ask her to go swimming again next week.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

John Lewis shoe department

We are in John Lewis kiddy shoe department. It is empty, apart from me, Tiger, and Rana, the sales staff, who asks me if I have a ticket. Ticket? Ticket? I'm clearly expected to have a ticket if Tiger wants to look at sandals and decide whether she's pushing off to Next.

Now I've been here before, and I remember. Probably to overcome the rush at term starts, John Lewis has a ticket system. In the past it's been a cross between bingo and the deli counter. The staff shout out a few numbers until one comes up and then I shout up 'House!' and all goes well.

Only it doesn't go well. Not at all. Because John Lewis has installed a fancy new computer-driven ticket system. There is a computer screen now that asks the question 'Are you interested in the fitting service for shoes?' I can answer Yes or No. Answering something smart like, 'I am in the shoe department because I want to buy an oven' doesn't figure. So I press 'Yes'. Then up comes some more screens: How many children? What ages? Boys? Girls? By now I half expect it to ask what shoe size I'd like measuring for. It all seems a time wasting palaver to me, given the fact that Rana is the only person watching us, but I'm guessing that's what John Lewis are doing it for. To waste my time, and free up the time of Rana who probably is in need of a cup of tea by the time she's seen to James and Geraldine and Davy and Martin and Katy and Clara.

When the machine gives me a ticket, it reads we can be seen by Rana at 4.49. It is 4.15, and we are the only ones in the department. Now, naturally, Grit becomes a bit stroppy. 'Shall I wait?' I shout. 'I can wait if you'd rather!' 'I can wait over here!' Tiger has already eyed up some expensive pink Birkenstocks and I could probably tell Rana that Tiger takes size 13. Now Rana is very good and poopoohs my ticket, even though I have got bolshy with it. 'No!' I say. 'Let me wait! The ticket says 4.49!' She is even nicer now, and smiles a lot and offers to find shoes in size 13 for Tiger.

Now this is where the trouble really starts. Because another mother turns up. And she is worse than Grit with the machine. She is Fuming Mother, and she does not play the game. She slams the keypad with No No No and says it is bloody rubbish and why can't her son look at some shoes when Rana is ready because there is no-one else here apart from the mother with electrocuted hair and a daughter who looks like she has already chosen expensive pink Birkenstocks in size 13.

Grit is naturally delighted at finding someone else who is even more stroppy than she. So Grit can have a secret smile while Rana goes off to find shoes for son of Fuming Mother, and while Tiger jumps up and down some more in expensive pink Birkenstocks, just in case, she says, she might like the other pink ones better.

And then, disaster. It is 4.36. And Hulk Mother, the owner of ticket 4.33, arrives at the shoe department. And what does she see? Rana is actually measuring someone else's feet! And there is a child jumping up and down in expensive pink Birkenstocks who has evidently been measured already! Hulk Mother is not happy. Not at all. She is worse than Grit and Fuming Mother put together. She stops, and shouts out across the floor for us all to hear, 'I have a ticket! And somebody-' she shoots a mean, accusing, glance at Rana, 'Somebody decided to serve somebody else! Even though I have a ticket!' Hulk Mother brandishes the ticket like it is the sword of truth just plucked from the mountainside of honour.

Now if I were Rana, this perfectly horrible woman would probably reduce me to tears, or I would lose my job for telling Hulk Mother to shove her ticket, but Rana is evidently a much more professional person than me. Rana just smiles, patiently. Even while there is a big fighty scene going on, with lots of John Lewis staff trying to run discreetly, Hulk Mother glowering meanly, the head of shoes whispering about complaint procedures, and Tiger, still jumping up and down in expensive pink Birkenstocks.

What I can make from this, John Lewis, is that your new computerised ticket system is simply not working. Today it undermined your staff and put them in a position where they were punished for using their initiative and their common sense. It undermined your customers and it put us all at odds with each other. It got Grit's sarcasm flowing, got Fuming Mother's hackles up, and gave Hulk Mother an opportunity to vent her rage back at your staff.

So whether you stock expensive pink Birkenstocks or not, we're not coming back in a hurry. And I think whoever installed the computer system in the kiddy shoe department owes Rana a bunch of flowers and an apology.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Monday is ballet day

Well, Ermintrude's first day couldn't have gone too badly, because she's still here this morning. I half expected her to slide away in the middle of the night. But I'm starting to discover why we've been chosen by Ermintrude. Strangely, it was not because we could test her 'I like children' skills by throwing Shark, Squirrel and Tiger at her. It is because she has a boyfriend in London with a posh flat, good looks and a French accent. If I were her, I'd keep an eye on things as well. So she plans to go back to London at weekends, she says, if that's alright by us.

I'm beginning to warm to Ermintrude. She tells me she is a biochemistry student and wants to improve her English so she can get a job, come to London and keep taps on Francois. I say it is tabs, Ermintrude, tabs. I say I think the Grit family is perfect for tip-top English speaking. Ignore Tiger when she shouts 'Nincompoop baby' and don't look in the fridge.

Anyway, while Ermintrude busies herself trying to work out what on earth Tiger is chanting, I get Squirrel ready for her ballet. Squirrel's ballet school has three upcoming performances at a local theatre. Now, I have to say that what's about to hit us here probably deserves a blog of its own. I could call it 'Torture, misery, despair. Suburban ballet schools.' It is such a rich seam of woe for Grit that I hardly know where to start.

So I shall start with Squirrel. Squirrel loves her ballet. She probably imagines herself as a proper ballerina, all pink and sugar plum fairy with gossamer wings that come out only for ballet and disappear while she's in the co-op, unless you look very hard and see a shower of silver sparkles all around her. This is OK by me. I know it is Squirrel's fantasy and this is fine. I have fantasies too. Mostly about Stephan actually, but I'm not aged 7. Anyway, the thing is, I like Squirrel to have her imaginings. But I do not feel obliged to want them for myself. This is what separates me from some of the other ballet mums.

There is a group of ballet mums at Squirrel's ballet who have daughters just like Squirrel, but those daughters have proper hair in buns. They have proper cleaned faces and their socks are washed. They have silver sparkles stitched into their cardigans and leotards that fit. These ballet mums go to great lengths to support the ballet fantasies and, I suspect, believe in them too.

And in this group, I stick out like a sore thumb. I have hair that looks like I've been electrocuted again, jeans that are torn in all directions, and stains down the front of Dig's old shirt, which I wear because I cannot find any clothes of my own. Unfortunately for Squirrel , she looks much the same. Her hair is combed once a fortnight because I cannot bear the screams. Her clothes are routinely unmended because I have more important things to do, and her leotard is three years old because I cannot face the misery of getting arguing triplets into John Lewis to buy a leotard for Squirrel at £12.99 when I am utterly broke anyway thanks to forking out a fortune for lessons in tennis, gym, trampoline, violin, and ballet.

It's unlikely, therefore, that in her ballet performance, Squirrel is going to be chosen as anything other than supporting cloud. Twig, the ballet teacher, has probably decided that since Squirrel is routinely late, does not wear her hair in a proper bun and has a leotard that does not fit, she is probably best placed in a role that will not be missed if she simply fails to show up at all.

Then comes my role in Squirrel's part as supporting cloud. Over the next three weeks I will be expected to cart her backwards and forwards at all hours for rehearsals. I will be expected to make sure she has her hair done up, be in the dressing rooms at the right time and then wait backstage. Each three hours will feel like torture. The ballet mums will be competing with each other, showing off fairy wings and hair nets, and I will be staring at the walls wondering if I am brain dead.

On the dress rehearsal, one of the ballet mums with salon managed hair and perfect make up will demand that I take my part as chaperone and get the kids from dressing room to stage at the right time. I will tell her no, because I am unreliable, and she will give me a cold hard stare, with her pen poised over my name on her tick list. Driven by the need to break the awkward silence I'll start to explain why I feel temperamentally unsuitable for the responsibility of leading kids dressed as clouds and rainbows. She'll look at me like I'm trying to be funny and then she'll snort and cross my name off her list with a great deal more pressure than required.

When that's over, Twig will make an excuse to talk to me so that she can remind me that I owe £16 for Squirrel's costume and please tell Miss Tuzy how many seats to reserve for me at £11 a head. 'Shall we put you down for 4 or 5?' she'll ask. If I drink heavily I will just be able to spit out a few words to Miss Tuzy whom I loathe. Not pulling any punches here, Grit thinks Miss Tuzy is an affected prissy airhead. Actually, if I did drink heavily, I might just tell her that.

All this is ahead of us. The very thought of having to engage in any of this is torture. But I bet you are thinking, why can't Ermintrude do all the running about with Squirrel and then Grit, you could just sit and watch the show. Exactly. If I do not do the running about with Squirrel, then I have to pay another £11 for myself to sit through three hours of amateur children's ballet in suburbia for Squirrel's fifteen seconds as supporting cloud. No. No matter how much I love Squirrel, I could not possibly do that. It is a step too far. That's a challenge I might throw down to Ermintrude, if she's still here. She can watch Squirrel, and I can hide in the ladies loo with a bottle of red wine.

Sunday, 17 June 2007


It's 10 o'clock in the morning and Dig says that the au pair is arriving on the train at 10.30, so get down to the station and pick her up, because he needs to get his trousers on. I say I'm not changing our day's plans, so there. It's a full day ahead for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, what with the free curry and the music festival, so the au pair will just have to join in.

Actually, I've been up since 8, trying to make us look presentable. I've put out the rubbish, swept the schoolroom floor, changed a spare bed, done the washing up, redistributed the laundry and ejected a penguin and two dolphins from the kitchen. I found a dinosaur and a zebra under my chopping table. Squirrel's taken to stuffing her cuddly toys under there in the mistaken idea that she has found a new squirrelling hole.

This is not a new squirrelling hole, I tell her. This is a deeply irritating place to stuff them, so stop it. For a start, they don't fit, and when you've squeezed them under there, they squeeze themselves out again and I trip over them. And when they do come out they are covered in fluff and bits of chopped onion and celery because they are under my chopping table. Now make them disappear and do not stuff them, like last time, behind the curtains/ under the computer table/ down the sofa/ behind the bookcase/ in the oven/ in the place where I keep the big bowls/ in the fridge. Believe me, I will find them.

Well, by the time I do pick up the au pair, all I know, apart from the fact that she speaks French, is her name. It is a very pretty name. Like the au pair. She is also very pretty. Now Grit is a mature lady and not at all threatened by having a very pretty au pair in the house with a very pretty name, all suddenly dropped out of the sky on her by a husband who is barely here and when he is here, spends his life wrapped round his computer. No, I am not at all threatened. I will give the new au pair the blog name Ermintrude to do her justice. I'm sure you'll agree Ermintrude is a very pretty name.

The first thing we are booked for today is a hippy festival in one of our local parks. This happens every year, and the Buddhists mastermind it. The Buddhists make sure everyone is nice to each other. There is a bit of chanting and speeches, and afterwards we get a plate of curry and a cup of tea. We are definitely going. I can teach the children about how to be nice to each other. And the curry and cup of tea are free.

This is Ermintrude's first introduction to us. After picking her up, we all clamber in the car to get off to the Buddhists. Shark and Tiger start fighting and slapping and howling as usual. Squirrel is worried about missing the curry and keeps asking 'have we missed the curry?' I tell her to be quiet about that because the free curry is not the only reason why we are going. We are going because the Buddhists are nice and we might get some ideas from that. I have to shout this bit so I can be heard above the screaming and crying.

By the time we get out the car, Shark and Tiger have been given a very big talking to about being nice to each other all day long. And, after the Toddington incident, I have confiscated all the picnic baskets. Squirrel leaps out the car and starts running up the hill towards the Buddhists shouting 'Hurry mummy! We'll miss the curry!' I have to follow with my eyebrows raised like I do not know what she could possibly be talking about.

I sit Ermintrude down on the picnic blanket. I think with all that blonde hair and fair skin she possibly looks a bit peaky, so point her in the direction of the sun. Because my nose always catches the sun first and goes bright red, I make sure I slather on a lot of nose sunscreen. I apologise, Ermintrude, for forgetting to offer you sunscreen for your nose.

When we've all done a bit of chanting and had the free curry, we can leg it over to the next festival happening in another part of town. This is brilliant. It's a proper music festival with proper bands and it's free. We're there in fifteen minutes flat and immediately get down to the stage where we see The Hat cavorting about, dancing with lots of people just like I would expect The Hat to do. I get Ermintrude to take Squirrel and Shark off to do some serious jumping about while Tiger refuses to join in because she has seen a dog somewhere, so I have to stay out of the fun and dance on my own. I look at Ermintrude and think she's a little bit thin. I make a mental note to put four large packs of Green and Black's in her room. I am sure they will be a lovely welcome present.

By the time we get back home it's 7 in the evening. The children are all exhausted and shouty. Squirrel has a big weep. Shark has a big shout. Tiger growls and slams a few doors. Dig makes himself scarce. I suggest to Ermintrude that she might try out her 'I like children' skills. With six weeks au pairing to go for the Grit family, Ermintrude looks like she's wondering what she's let herself in for. And as I keep my eye on everyone, I'm wondering as well, what we've all let ourselves in for.

Saturday, 16 June 2007


I am in a right strop. This morning it was bad. Now it's worse.

We pick up Dig from the airport and he airily says that he's not going anywhere for a little while now, so we can all be nice to each other at home. He suggests because it is late in the day we could stop at the pizza shop in the square and get pizza. Although I am grumpy about this because I am broke and Dig is just coming back from a trip which hasn't paid anything, I can still see some advantage to not cooking Tesco value pasta again at 8.30pm.

Then it all goes downhill. With speed. Dig says next month he goes over to Brazil for a not holiday. That sends me quietly seething. If he adds anything else right now about that I might have to give into the urge to drive the car onto the hard shoulder and have a loud scream. Before I can even get to that point, Shark goes bonkers and starts slapping Tiger. Tiger punches back and Shark screams. Squirrel gets involved with Shark flailing about next to her and starts kicking wildly anything in kicking distance.

Shark is screaming, Tiger is howling, Squirrel is kicking, Dig is shouting and we are getting close to Toddington, where I had to pull in here last week and have a breakdown. This is getting too regular for my liking. Soon a CCTV image of a disfunctional family disgorging from the car weeping and brawling will be on a reality programme about the life of a service station. Week after week, it'll be the Grit family at Toddington.

In the middle of all the screaming, Dig shouts out the punishment for us all. 'No pizza!' Right. So I'm cooking Tesco value pasta again at 8.30 tonight.

Or I'm driving the car onto the hard shoulder, having a big scream, then driving back to slam down a cereal packet and bottle of milk on the kitchen table before leaving home.

Friday, 15 June 2007


I get a letter from Ko, our local Kids Events in the Parks manager. She is quite careful about how she phrases it, but basically she says in her letter that if I want to have passes for the childrens events in the parks over summer, then I have to pay for them.

I ring up. 'I posted the cheque to you', I declare, 'and I posted it at the beginning of the week'. I didn't say that actually I had the envelope stamped and addressed over two weeks ago and then carried it around in my bag all last week while we were wandering about Kent, but it never seemed to make the post box, despite the fact that there was a box just outside the barrier to our Stalag caravan site. So I brought the envelope all the way home again and posted it in the letter box outside our house, which I probably could have done two weeks ago, if I hadn't been in a hurry.

'There was nothing in the envelope', says Ko. 'Nothing in it?' I ask. 'It was empty' she adds. How is this possible? Perhaps she took out the note and the cheque, and lost them. I am not so haphazard in my daily life that I forgot to put them inside in the first place. Surely that's not possible.

Of course I do have form here. Last year we went to a dragonfly hunt in the park where we saw not a single dragonfly but we did see about four inches of rainwater tip on our heads and the river rise at such an alarming rate that one of the parks people brought his landrover down into the field to rescue us. I was the only one without transport. For some reason which I cannot now remember Dig took the car off us, drove it home and fell asleep. Anyway, when we were ejected from the landrover I left behind my glasses, papers and sundry assorted items which I then spent about two weeks looking for before realising I'd left them in some bloke's landrover's glove compartment and had to go to the parks office to pick them up.

So on receiving no cheque, no note and in fact, nothing, if they are surmising 'It's that triplet woman with the hair', then it probably would not surprise me. I had been on the phone three times to them about the passes before I even got round to the posting bit. And from then on it's all straightforward: I stick a little return name and address on the back of all my outgoing mail because I do not trust the Post Office. They might be unreliable and lose my envelope.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

A grumbly day

Dig's off again. As he goes out the door he says he'll be back Saturday and the au pair's coming Sunday. I guess that's an invitation to clear the house out, smarten the kids up, do the laundry, get rid of the fridge and probably reroof the house in case she doesn't like the colour grey.

OK, so I'm feeling a bit resentful about this state of affairs. I can't help it. This is not a good trip for Dig to make. It's prestigious, but they're not paying, and it seems to me that if the argument is about how someone's got to earn the money, then working for free is not a good strategy. So I am grumpy, difficult and sulky.

When Dig's gone, Shark refuses to get into her gym costume because apparently I haven't given her enough warning. It's Thursday, I say. You do gym every Thursday. How much warning do you need that Thursday is coming round again? I know. Let's get ready now in preparation for next Thursday. She then sulks round Tesco because she says I am picking fights and I won't buy her a plastic bat.

It doesn't get any better. When we go off to the kiddie theme park for the afternoon, Squirrel gets herself walked back to me by a young chap in management who thinks she's lost. She arrives back at the picnic table where I'm sitting with my book on 12th century warfare, and promptly runs off again while I explain to the young chap that she's not lost, she just looks like that sometimes, staring forlornly into space with her 'my sisters are having fun without me' expression. By the time we get to drama it's Tiger's turn to sulk and scowl and snarl at Cher, the organiser, who is so nice and sweet she reminds me of a big bowl of ice cream with extra cream. When I pick up Tiger later she's still all 'I hate drama! I hate drama!' As a fitting punishment to being a whining small person I say she's jolly well going back next week.

So there you have it. A day of being awkward and at odds with the world. A No Achievement day.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007


The children are at a home ed kite making session. We are late, of course, so by the time we get there, a dozen kids in the hut are busy cutting and sticking.

Within seconds I sense that I am getting up the nose of the Organiser who's leading the group. For a start, we're late, and that matters sometimes. We have a script for being late though, and it is to enter noisily, shout 'Hi! It's us! We're late! What are we doing?' and then someone will tell us, or point to some instructions. Then the Organiser of the group will tut because now she has to go right back to the beginning again, find the materials she had, the model she used, and relay the instructions she made such a fuss about before. But it will be too late, because within seconds of getting in, I'll have grabbed the materials, grilled some kid about what we do now, and already be engaged in an argument with Shark about a chair, so won't listen to what Organiser has to say anyway.

This is where is get up her nose a bit further. Everyone's sticking down their kite sticks with tape. I grab the dispensers because dispensers are easy for children. They have narrow tape in. Cutting wide sticky tape with scissors with the tape hanging off the back of a chair is hard. 'Not that tape!' instructs the organiser. 'Why not?' I say. I'm a woman in a hurry, and as far as I'm concerned, a woman in a hurry can't waste time figuring out appropriate politeness formula. 'That should be hidden!' snaps the Organiser. 'Use that tape!' I can't see why myself, since narrow tape seems to work just as well as wide, but I take the dispenser from Shark and give it back. OK, so I did slam it down a bit, but that's because I'm a woman in a hurry, and not because it's an invitation to the Organiser for a duel at dawn with tape dispensers.

Then we get told to all shut up because what she says now is very important indeed, and last time she says no one was listening. Well, I look round the table. They must have been listening, I think, because everyone's got a kite made. What she has to say is cut it like this, not like that, like this. Well, I think, perhaps we are all very stupid, but somehow I think we could have sussed it from the model, and cutting out a shape wasn't so very, very important we all had to stand to attention. Squirrel doesn't even want shapes cut out of her kite. She says her kite is a bat and bats do not have cut out bits in their bodies with transparent paper stuck in. She has a point, although I think it's wise not to tell it to the Organiser.

The next bit is where I irritate the Organiser bigtime. Because we all have to shut up and look at her and listen again to how we must fly the kites. Apparently, last time people were flying their kites in different directions. The Organiser wants everyone to run up and down the same way at the same time. I start to snort. Loud enough for the Organiser to hear my snorting. I cannot help it. It is involuntary snorting. The throught of suggesting to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that they must engage in regimented kite flying is too much for me. The Organiser hears. She seems to get a bit higher, probably on tippee toes now. Last time, she says, someone did not run up and down in the way they were told. She pauses for some dramatic impact, and with a darting glance at the snorting mother with the hair, adds, 'and they got a rope burn!' At this point I feel it is my duty to snort even louder, so I do.

By the end of the session I feel I've very little to lose, and in a moment of great Grit huffy puffiness I suggest in a loud voice to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that everyone take their kites home and fly them at Beacon Hill. I'd like to add 'because kite flying here is Organised and No Fun.' Shark and Tiger ignore me anyway. They do try and fly their kites. Tiger runs round in circles, Shark runs up and down. No-one imposes any regimentation about the kite flying bit, and there's virtually no organisation at all, beyond the sense we're all capable of showing. And there's no rope burns, no broken bones, no mangled bloodied corpses severed by kite strings. I can't help wondering if the Organiser's just a tad disappointed about that.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Dig is back

Just enough time to dump some laundry on the kitchen floor, have an argument, fall asleep, and pack to go somewhere else for a few days.

We all look forward to Dig coming back, but when he gets here he's still living in Asia time so he tends to stare off into the middle distance a lot. Part of his brain is sleeping and the other part is thinking about all the work he's not been doing in the UK.

Now this is where some of the problems start. Because if you are aged seven, or forty seven, watching a jet-lagged, staring Dig slumping in front of his computer is not a great amount of fun. Consequently things seem to go downhill fairly quickly. The children get a bit loud and boistrous. I say they have missed you and are crying out for attention. Dig says they are behaving badly and need more discipline. I'll say well you're not here so you don't have to deal with them and when you do deal with them, don't deal with them like that, then Dig will say someone has to earn the money, and everyone will have a big fight. The kids will be howling and pelting each other with puffins, and me and Dig will be shouting at each other about child management issues and something really important like why there is no cheese.

So this is the first day back. It's a regular pattern now, and I plan for it. I have an activity for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to do so that they are preoccupied and don't demand that daddy is interesting or exciting. I think to myself that if Dig's back on Tuesday, he's really back on Thursday, and if he's going again on Thursday, then he's in transit and not really coming back at all.

Monday, 11 June 2007


We have a visitor today; San and her two kids, En and Zee. San is lovely, and so is her family. They're all so normal, and well-adjusted, and level headed. Things work around them. Things are in order and proportion around them. They have their life-work balance sorted out. I bet their doorhandles work.

When San arrives, she tries to shut the outside door that leads from the front garden into the lobby. 'Nope'. I say. 'It doesn't work. The bloke who lived here previously - the one who took out the Victorian fireplace so he could put in a cupboard and then smashed up the original wooden panneling so he could nail a baton to the wall and put up a chipboard table for his computer - yes, that's him - he put the front doorhandle on the wrong way round. It turns counter intuitively. You'd expect to open the right-hand door by turning the handle clockwise, wouldn't you? Well Mr Bumface put it on so that you have to turn it anticlockwise. People come to the front door, turn the handle, and think it's locked, so leave. We had a great time trying to persuade BT we were actually in. And then, over the years, as people have wrenched it this way and that, trying to get in, the whole thing gradually wore away, and fell off. So now the handle's just decorative.'

Well, this got me thinking. After the doorhandle incident in the office the other day, I decided to do a small guide to doorhandles.

Doorhandle to the schoolroom. It works! Nothing wrong! Apart from the fact that someone has tied string and sellotape all over it and from it hangs a plastic bat.

Doorhandle to bathroom. In 2002 Dig replaced one that did not turn properly with another one that does not turn properly.

Doorhandle on French windows. Comes off. Dig said he would mend that in 1992. Now the French windows are rotting and may collapse. This gives Dig the perfect excuse not to do anything at all.

Doorhandle to the kitchen. Fell off in 1994. Actually, this one has a story attached to it. First, let me say for once this had nothing to do with me, was not my fault, and did not involve me in making a fool of myself in public.

In 1997 the boiler broke down. Da couldn't come. We called in Mr Plug. The boiler is quite high up on the kitchen walls, so Mr Plug got up on the worksurface to poke inside it. Within seconds there was a loud bang and Mr Plug threw himself backwards, from the worksurface height, to the floor. Here was an electrocuted man. And the first thing an electrocuted man does is run for the door. Unfortunately, I hadn't quite nailed down all of the floor tiles. These were hand painted floor tiles, mind, that I'd carefully painted, varnished, and fixed into place with copper pins. But I hadn't quite finished. So as Mr Plug ran for the door, the floor tiles slid away under his feet. To correct himself, he reached out a hand for the kitchen doorhandle. Of course it came off. If only he'd waited, I could have told him that it fell off in 1994. Mr Plug shouted, a bit hysterically, actually, 'Get out! The house is falling down!' then ran to his van. He sat in his van quite a long time before he drove off. He wouldn't come back until we had an electrician to check over the wiring, which we did, cost £100. Sparky found nothing wrong. Mr Plug simply forgot to turn the boiler off. You see, his own fault.

Doorhandle to upstairs landing. Not there. Strangely, it seems to have fallen off leaving a gigantic hole. Dig blames the fact that this is a fire door and uses this as an excuse to do nothing here as well.

Doorhandle to bedroom 1. No doorhandle. Injudicious shutting of the door means that we can lock ourselves in by accident. I sometimes carry a door handle in my pocket in case I lock myself in here and need to get out.

Doorhandle to bedroom 2. We discovered only weeks ago that Squirrel's non-appearance at lunchtime did not mean she was sulking in her room. It meant she was locked in by accident. The door handle works on the outside, but not the inside. Don't ask me why.

Doorhandle to bedroom 3. Works perfectly! It even has a little crystal jewel droplet hanging from it, so it looks pretty too!

Now San is always very polite and lovely about the house, how tall the ceilings are and how wide the staircase is. But San, this is just the scale of the Victorian building. We have to look at the detail. And none of it works. It's not normal; it's dysfunctional. When I haven't got Squirrel taking off the doorhandles to hide them, I'll find they don't work, or they come off. And these doorhandles are a metaphor for life, quite frankly. It looks great on the outside, and then when you try and use it, it simply comes apart in your hands.

Sunday, 10 June 2007


The Grit framily has returned from their screaming holiday in Kent and I am doing the laundry. Four loads full. It is a bit smelly. Most of the dresses have wee on them. There are no toilets at Romney beach, but very good shingle dunes.

After a little while of the laundry, I have to start clearing up the mess in the house that was there before we left. I didn't do it then, but we have visitors tomorrow. I see I managed to arrange a hospitality session for tomorrow. It may end up in hospital, actually.

Because I am now doing everything, clearing out the car, unpacking, the laundry, extracting wooden spoons from the dishwasher with hairy mould on them, striding about the house shouting, tripping over Lego, pointing accusing fingers at small people, clutching my forehead, wailing about how no-one helps - because of all this I have to hide upstairs and cry. I have a bar of chocolate for company which helps. Tissues would help too, but we haven't got any, and someone has rolled the remainder of the toilet roll into a ball and stuck a toothbrush in it.

When I come down I decide to open the mail. This is prompted by the fact that there's a letter on the table outside that looks like it's been nailed on the door in our absence. It's from the water board. They say they're cutting us off. I open a letter from British Gas containing the nearest expression we'll get to an apology after they threatened us with the police. Then there's the monthly threat from the TV licence people who say they're coming round as well.

If they all came round on the same day - the TV people, the water board, the gas board, and the debt collection agency (re: our ongoing dispute) - then I could organise a tour, and probably charge for teas and coffees in the front room.

If this wasn't quite enough of a first day back, Dig rings up on Skype. Apparently he's had a very nice time in Malaysia, what with the bars, and the chit chat, and the food, and the invitation to Bali. He speaks to Squirrel and then says, 'Have you done any baking?'

'Have you done any baking???' I shout. I am a bit incredulous.

Surely Dig, what you really mean to ask Squirrel is, 'Has your mother survived the day without killing herself? Keep an eye on her, because there's still a few hours to go before midnight.'

Dig, you could add: 'I am sorry I did not screw on the door handle in the office, so that when you slam the door behind the retreating, squabbling kids, then, after ten minutes go to open it again, the door handle comes off in your hand and you are locked in.'

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Off home

Tra la la! We're off home! Yippee! I can get a good night's sleep without the trampolining magpie, the poo pumping men or Mr Sunshine saying good morning at 4 am! I am in quite a good mood as I chivvy everyone along. I packed the car last night so it's only the kids, me, and the sandpile in Squirrel's bedside cabinet to go.

We go home via Battle, appropriately enough, to have a screaming fit about three metres from where the Saxon King Harold was killed and William I changed the direction of English history. I could see the French party moving off with their hands clamped over their ears and their audio tours so they could hear through the screams and shrieks provoked by whose daisy was whose for the daisy chain.

Our reenactment as we passed through Battle last year was conducted much more discreetly, in the children's playground in the forest area. Shark and Tiger fought over who was going to sit in the big wooden chair first. The big wooden chair is supposed to be English Heritage's idea of a bit of fun. They think children will sit in it and pretend to be ruler of England. They clearly didn't know about the triplets. It's not about sitting on the big wooden chair that motivates Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, oh no. It's about stopping anyone else from sitting in it. Sticks were used, blood was drawn, and everyone was shouted at by mummy who threatened to confiscate all the sticks. That's a pretty foolish thing to threaten in the middle of a forest, I can tell you, and pretty much weakened my power base.

Last year, in the end, we all went back to the car in disgrace and that's how it ended this year too, with us all squabbling and shouting and leaving this family. Perhaps we'll go back to Battle next year. I can give advance notice of the reenactment if anyone would like to come and referee.

The final car journey home was the second worst of my life. I am still unable to describe the horrors of the first, and I still want to weep now about the second. Suffice to say that Radio 2 was playing a gig by the Pet Shop Boys, so I listened to that. Very loud indeed. And it got me home, with only a stop to weep at Toddington.

Friday, 8 June 2007


It is Friday. I decide we'll all be pilgrims today and drive to Canterbury. I do contemplate making everyone walk over the chalk downs with a stick and a floppy hat, medieval style, so we can get into the full drama of the day, but reckon I'll probably have enough drama without going out of my way to create it.

We're late setting off, and within seconds of being in the car, the arguing starts. Anticipating this I've got my iPod with me, so just plug in my ears, turn up the volume and listen to the La's instead. It is brilliant. I wish I'd thought of this on Monday. The La's nearly drown out the screams and 'Nincompoop baby!' for a good 40 minutes.

When we arrive in Canterbury and park behind M&S I regretfully decide to hide the iPod. I reckon that dancing down the High Street to the La's deliberately ignoring three clearly not-at-school children squabbling and weeping might look bad to the good folk of Canterbury, and before I know it our happy pilgrimage will have a Local Authority Truancy Officer summoned up on a concerned citizen's mobile phone along with Social Services and a policewoman with a walkie-talkie.

But how I wish I could keep listening. We're barely a footstep inside Canterbury Museum when Squirrel starts with the 'I'm leaving this family' routine. She says she cannot see the little video screen on the Digibox that we collect at reception. Now the Digibox is lovely. I think every museum should have one. It's like having your own hand-held video with lots of facts and presentations and even bits of drama about the Vikings and the Normans and the Tudors who've all lived and worked in Canterbury. I'm tempted to hog the Digibox all for myself and consider it's an act of great selflessness to let anyone see it at all, so I'm not particularly sympathetic to Squirrel's complaints.

As if having a bolshy, foot dragging Squirrel was not enough, the burglar alarm starts. I'm with Tiger in the Tudor room arguing about why it should be me who presses the buttons on the Digibox when the most ear-piercing alarm splits my head apart and I look up to see Shark sliding around the side of a glass mounting box with a hang dog expression. Immediately I shout 'What have you touched?' which I admit does not give her the presumption of innocence.

The screaming alarm is torture, but I reckon at this point it is better for us all to stand there and face the music than for me to suggest everyone now run off. And I do face the music. Within seconds I have the attentions of the museum staff who suggest their alarm system is linked to the police station and here I am apologising and grovelling and saying what a lovely museum it is and the Digibox is lovely and I'm sure my daughter did not intend to nick your fifteenth century bowl.

When we've done with the museum, or rather they've had enough of us and gratuitously pointed out the exit, we head off to the Canterbury Tales. I think this will be a great introduction to storytelling and to Chaucer and to Canterbury and will support all the lovely history work we do at home. If you've not been here, it's like a waxwork show of medieval scenes with some of Chaucer's stories re-told over an audio system. It's quite fun, semi-dark, and not scary. Unless you are Tiger.

Tiger is scared of the darkened room ahead when we start, so the audio lady gives her a torch. This means I listen to Chaucer's introduction as he sits by the fireside, looking at a door marked FIRE. I try and wrestle the torch off Tiger so that we don't have to listen to the Miller's Tale while we stare at a door marked STAFF. I am only partially successful at this because when I do wrestle the torch from her I drop it and break it. Then Squirrel's audio tour won't stay attached to her ears and for some reason her audio unit starts screeching horribly so I give her mine and spend the Wife of Bath's Tale fiddling with the controls on Squirrel's audio trying to make it work.

By the time we're approaching the Cathedral on our waxy pilgrimage story we're all walking in the same direction at the same time which is pretty good for us. The tour ends by leading us out into the gift shop in traditional style where everyone oohs and aahs over the fairy jewelry box and tries to get me to part with £29.95 for the privilege of taking it home and fighting over it. I politely decline and insist everyone now must go to the real Cathedral and go ooh and aah over that instead.

By this time I have dwindling interest in the real Cathedral. It is jolly expensive to get in; Squirrel has started her 'I'm leaving this family' line because I won't buy the jewelry box; we're historians, not at all religious, and the maximum five hours I can park behind M&S is nearly up.

So it's back to the car, back to the van, and some more of the La's for me. Apart from the burglar incident and the rather normal accident-prone procession round the Canterbury Tales waxwork show, my exposure to the fighting has been limited today, so I'm counting it as a success. The first, I'd say, on our holiday to Kent. And the last day of the holiday. Now if I was a proper pilgrim, I could say there's a blessing here somewhere.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Nanny McPhee

We are in Sandwich squabbling over whether Shark or Tiger saw the Tudor house first. I have forgotten to bring anything to drink and things are looking bad. There has already been a fight over who gets to sit down first on the bench outside the guildhall and Squirrel has shouted she is leaving this family while standing outside Sandwich police station. Dig calls up. He's in Malaysia now, where the food is lovely and the weather's fine, so thank goodness he decided not to go to Bangladesh where there might be storms. 'I have an au pair' says Dig. 'Tell me about it', I say.

Apparently Dig might be somewhere else in the world but that's no reason to stop the great au pair hunt. Sasha's coming over for August, which leaves plenty of months free to give up a room to a weeping teenager in exchange for a few language lessons and a few new additions to the laundry, which now routinely spews over the kitchen floor because the basket's squished full.

'She might arrive next Tuesday' says Dig. Dig doesn't get back until Tuesday. We get back Saturday night. This is not enough time to clear up the house, prepare a guest room and get rid of the fridge. 'We've not decided that yet', says Dig, encouragingly. I might have to put up a bit of a protest about this. 'I will text you the website', says Dig. 'My money's running out and I have to go for dinner'. It's just as well. Tiger and Shark are beginning a full-blown punch up and are swinging their picnic baskets at each other outside the tourist office. We've already been in there and I can't say the woman was helpful. She just kept her eyes on us the whole time, probably in case we stole her brochures.

'I'll look if I've got time' I answer, and Dig's gone, probably to enjoy a peaceful evening chatting about commas and being important. I separate the fight and we embark on the town walk. I get hopelessly lost in seconds because I'm concentrating on keeping everyone in single file down the narrow streets so they can't take pot shots at each other with their hampers.

So we have an au pair coming next week. She speaks French. That's all I know, probably until she turns up on the doorstep with a suitcase, Nanny McPhee style. And if I find out any more about that particular adventure before next week, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007


Well at home we piss off the neighbours for miles around by shouting in the kiddies playground, arguing in the street, rolling about in the gutter, screaming at passing dogs and hissing at everyone's cat. Now we're in Kent, we have to find a neighbour and piss them off by screaming outside their bedroom window, setting traps for them and stuffing a unicorn down their drainpipe.

It all starts when Shark, Squirrel and Tiger decide to play together outside the van while I contemplate whether going home early would be a signal of failure, or whether I can get through the ordeal of single mothering in a prison caravan with a blocked cess pit and a trampolining magpie if I just drink heavily to midnight and start off each morning at 4 am with a dash of single malt.

Then I'm aware that everyone seems to be quiet outside. This is trouble. Sure enough, they're digging up the grass with their spades. They do this at home and it is very irritating. They dig a hole in the lawn which becomes a bear trap when it's covered in grass; I come along, misplace my foot in it, twist my ankle and fall over. Now they're doing it here outside the neighbour's van.

'Do not dig up the grass!' I hiss. Squirrel ignores me as another piece of turf, levered up with her spade, goes flying over her shoulder. 'Do not dig up the grass!' I shout. I'm running around, trying to put the turf back into the soily holes; Tiger, Shark and Squirrel squeal that this is the blue tit's nest and here's the baby eagle, and there, now I've done it, I've just covered up the owl nest which just goes to show what a horrid mother I am. Now the little rolled up balls of toilet paper in each soily hole make sense. They're eggs. Of course, I should have seen that. But digging up the turf outside the neighbour's van probably contravenes some sort of rule so I say they can't play eggs-in-nests until they get to the beach, so play something else.

And they do. It's called put your cuddly toy unicorn into your flip flop and throw it up in the air. Your unicorn likes this. The flip flop is his microlite and this is his first flying lesson. This is hilarious until the unicorn lands with a thud on the roof of the neighbouring caravan, rolls down the gentle curve, and gets wedged with his microlite in the guttering.

The first I know of this is when I hear 'Mummy! Mummy! Furryhorn is on the roof!'

Since I cannot reach the pesky thing discreetly, I have to get out the wobbly stool from under the dining table in the van and climb on that. By waving a ruler at the guttering I can just about flip and squeeze the unicorn and microlite along to the end of the van where I hope to bounce him over. He's having none of it and wedges himself in the drainpipe. Now if I push him down any further it's going to look deliberate, taking advantage of the neighbour's day trip to Dover Castle to creep out and shove things down their drainpipe. So it's out with the coathangers, the confiscated spades, makeshift hooks sellotaped to 30cm rulers and hope no-one notices.

The rescue mission takes fifteen minutes. When he finally bounces out, I confiscate him along with the spades and force everyone in the car to go off and explore the Romney Marshes Wildlife Centre. If I don't, Squirrel might well decide the whole site needs a spot of redecoration and head off to the neighbour's van with the crayons.

The only positive thing I can say about the assaults on the neighbour's territory is that it is a fine example of cooperative teamwork because there is very little screaming all morning. We save the screaming for when we get back from the Wildlife Centre and the neighbours are staring glumly from their little kitchen window at the patched soil, probably wondering what else we've been up to.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Poo pumping

The cess pit next to the caravan is blocked. The men cannot pump out the poo. When we returned from the Dover Boat last night I wondered why there were three burly men, two in bright yellow vests, skulking about the bedroom window. That's my bedroom window, by the way. Not only is it east-facing so the light floods in at 4am, I now discover our caravan is located next to a cess pit.

The poo pumping is evidently a problem because the poo pumpers are back in the morning for a 7.30 start. Fortunately I've been awake for two hours thanks to the light and the trampolining magpie, so can listen in on the technicalities of poo pumping at close range. I can surmise that (a) the poo won't pump out and (b) a new poo pumping lorry is required. The second lorry turns up about 9 am, by which time we are all breakfasted and arguing about whether we are going down to the beach to be sandblasted by 40 mph winds or going over to Deal Castle to learn about Tudor defences.

In the middle of all our negotiations I wonder about the advisability of toileting but reckon there is nothing stopping Shark, so it's best not to say anything.

When we get back from Deal Castle in the evening the poo pumpers are walking across the only grassy patch of the caravan site in the direction of the bar. Clearly, it's been an all-day job. Suddenly, the experience of listening to 'Nincompoop baby! Nincompoop baby!' for two hours seems preferable to the experience of listening to poo-pump talk.

Monday, 4 June 2007


This is a truly horrible day. All day long Shark, Squirrel and Tiger argue. They argue and argue, and then argue some more. They argue over things like who was first to get up, then who was first to wake up, then who was first to open the door to the caravan so they could stand on the top step, hang on to the door frame, and block the exit. Then they argue over the dolphin bucket, and who gets the best picnic basket when they are all identical. They argue over who will get mummy the map because she is going to see the 3,500 year old Dover Boat and doesn't care if anyone else is coming or not, and then they argue about who gets in the car first, because it's never fair and it's always Shark who gets everything first. On the way to the Dover Boat I have to put up with screams, kicks to the back of my seat, the sounds of slapping and wailing and the chants of 'Nincompoop baby! Nincompoop baby!' from Tiger to Shark, who responds by screaming out her lungs. If I attempt to break up the fights by threatening to stop the car because I simply cannot drive in the pit of hell any longer, then Tiger screams she hates Shark, she hates me, and Shark screams back that she hates me, she hates Squirrel, Tiger and the universe and what is more she does not care if she never sees the poopy Dover Boat. When I pull in to a layby to put my hands over my ears Squirrel shouts she is leaving this family. At this rate, matey, not before me.

When we get to Dover a very lovely lady with bright blue mascara shows us to the Dover Boat museum. By this time the kids are all silent and sullen, foot dragging, red-eyed and scowling. I apologise, bright blue mascara lady, for suggesting I'd come to Dover to dump them.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

A day of rest

I am sitting on a fog-bound beach on a picnic rug where the visibility extends to five metres. I can just about make out the children who are instructed to make trails in the sand with their spades so they can find their way back to Mummy Camp. I am cold, miserable, and have had a terrible nights sleep thanks to the lack of any light-stop curtains on a bedroom with an east-facing window, and the attentions of a magpie that has been jumping up and down on the caravan roof since the early hours.

Dig calls me on the mobile phone. He says he is sitting by a volcano in the Philippines and has had a lovely lunch. I say that sitting on a fog-bound beach in the cold with a headache and the certainty of a swelling on the brain which may yet lead to certain death is much better.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Happy holiday

'What a delightful caravan park!' I say to everyone as we drive in past the steel barriers. 'Look mummy!' says Tiger, 'What are the police doing here?' Well, Tiger, I tried not to draw your attention to the police cars and a retreating band of skinheads heading off past the children's playground.

This has to be the caravan site from hell. Not only are the police here, the reception resembles a concrete bunker and the caravans are arranged like prison blocks. I can't see any evidence of barbed wire but I'm not saying definitely no just yet.

By the time I park the car next to the playground and get out to head to the reception, Squirrel is in a full-blown screaming fit. This has been prompted by the fact that I have put her suitcase in the boot and she wanted it in the front. I cannot extend a great deal of sympathy for this. Shark and Tiger leg it to the swings. I reckon the police presence should make it OK for five minutes while I collect the van key from the bunker. If only Squirrel wasn't still screaming her lungs out.

By the time I get back with our van key - SB58 - Squirrel has calmed down enough to say she's never getting back in the car ever ever ever again. After fifteen minutes of trying to coax her back into the car and the imminent explosion from a frustrated Shark and a small Tiger who's keen to unpack her bucket and spade, I say 'Fine' to Squirrel, and I drive off to park beside SB58, leaving a shocked Squirrel standing by the empty car parking space.

Logically, I reason, SB58 can't be more than a two minute drive away, and if it is, I will invent an excuse and come back and wrestle her in. But right now, after the trauma of being hit by a collapsing door, a three-hour drive composed of little more than screams, tears and fights, and the sight of the Kent police buzzing round our holiday home I would happily take up the offer of a rehousing opportunity for us all, and if it were in different locations, all the better.

But luckily for me, and for Squirrel, SB58 turns out to be less than a stone's throw from the car parking space I'd just left. And Squirrel quickly calms down when she finds her bedroom in the van has little curtains and a little cupboard and a tiny bedside cabinet with little cubbyholes, and all the cute things that Squirrels love to fill with sand and pebbles and bits of seaweed, which no doubt I will clear out next Saturday.

After an emergency pasta meal, I agree that going to the beach might be a jolly good thing, so off we go, past the police cars and the barriers, to enjoy the bracing sea wind and near darkness of the south Kent coastline.

What have I let myself in for?

Departure day

We're off to Kent. This is not as easy as it sounds. You think, pack the car, get the kids in, drive to the petrol station, set the sat nav going, and then you're off.

At the Grit household it doesn't work like that. First of all, it's unpack the car. Because everything's gone in. Cuddly toys, lego bricks, torn pieces of paper, sticks, plant pots. Squirrel says the plant pots might come in handy for collecting things. Shark wants to put in a pair of ice skating gloves, just in case we go ice skating. Tiger says she's not leaving without her tennis racquet. We negotiate. I accept buckets and spades and the toy boat. No plant pots. No ice skating. No tennis. When everyone's had a fight about which bucket and spade was bought for whom, I set up a video for the kids to watch because I have to unpack everything on the quiet, and if Tiger sees her tennis racquet coming out she might just have a fit and we won't set off till dusk.

Next, get the kids in. This is slightly complicated by the fact that when it is time to get the kids in, I put the rubbish out for collection. And when I do, the back gate falls off. This is not good.

The back gate is not just a gate. It's more a door. It's very old, wooden, and set within a tall and wide wooden gate that is supposed to swing open to let in your 1922 Austin 7. The gate (and the door within it) leads to a yard which leads to an Edwardian garage, which would probably be a listed building if anyone cared to list such things. Anyhow, when I open the door in the gate to take out the rubbish, it falls forward and hits me slap! on the side of the head. This is also not good. The door carries some weight behind it and for a minute I think I might have to die or at least pass out. If I die or pass out, I will fall on the mountain of rubbish in black bin liners waiting to be carried out to the street collection point. Then like a flash-thought I think the black bins usually have slugs on them. If I fall back, I fall on slugs. That thought keeps me upright.

It takes me a good half hour to prop the door back up. The pin which holds the hinge has corroded away, so I have to lift the door up enough to slot one side of the hinge into the other. If I leave the door collapsed, burglers will get in, and they will steal my silver teaspoons and Dig's computer. After twenty minutes I'm in tears and despair because of the terrible weight and the near death experience of the head injury.

By the time I do get the gate propped back into place, the video's finished, I'm filthy, exhausted, bruised and smelly, and the kids are observing that I'm carrying bags of slug-drenched rubbish through the house to the front door, apparently to the waiting car outside. 'Are we taking that?' asks Squirrel, puzzled that I appear to be heading out with a black bin liner bursting with potato peelings, broccoli stems, unrecyclable plastic, a broken wine glass wrapped in newspaper and some black slimy mixture I glumphed out from a jam jar that morning, but which in February we called 'a science experiment'. 'Yes', I answer.

Next, it's a drive down the road to the petrol station. I can pay at the pump. I would pay at the pump if the card I have isn't declared unusuable by the pump machine which spits it out in disgust. So then I have to pay at the shop with the woman who tuts because my card won't scan and she has to key in the numbers herself, and she probably doesn't like the look of the wild woman with tear stained face and swollen head. Then we drive back up the road to home to get the sat nav.

Then we're off. I cannot bear to recall the endless arguments about the tennis racquet, the plant pots, the ice skating and the dolphin bucket. Let's just get to Kent, I think. And thank goodness I have a half-bot of picnic wine in the driver's door compartment for fortification purposes about Junction 29 of the M25.

Friday, 1 June 2007

No burglars

Now, of course, I'm worried about the burglars. We've definitely got some. Pastry's things got nicked last Christmas when she left them outside, overnight, in her self-hire removals van. The local dodger had probably watched her load it all up and then waited until dark before making off with the lot, including the presents she'd got for her kids.

The only time we've had any burglary, attempted, was some years ago, when some juvenile tried to get in at the garden room. There's a tiny window, open, and a lodger snoring underneath, only junior dodger didn't know that when he tried to put his leg through. The lodger woke up with a start, the leg disappeared and that was that. I don't know whether to count the visitor who came in the lobby and smashed it up a few weeks ago. I think he was drunk, not intentional.

The way I've usually tried to knock Burglar Bill unconscious, should he call, is to leave the kids to prepare the ground. Shark's toys will be all over the floor: the lego bricks alone can be lethal. If he gets past those, he'll find Tiger's put small food traps around the house which will have either brought out the rats or will send him sliding across the room when he stands on a raspberry jam bap. He'll try and get out then, only to find that Squirrel's removed the door handles for safe keeping.

It could, of course, be the state of us that puts off any self-respecting burglar. Apart from the fact that we have nothing to nick. Most of the furniture's come from the tip. The TV is hardly state of the art, bought in 1989 and the dvd's broke. I get the stereo systems from Tesco.

We're not exactly the clean sort, either, partly because doing the cleaning lulls me into a coma, and partly because there's no time, even if I had the inclination. Take the car, for example. Basically, it's a skip on wheels. Last year we parked just behind the Albert Hall in Central London and left one of the sliding doors open by accident. It was there for four hours, one sliding door slid back, and nothing got nicked or touched. Shark's pasta was still all over the floor. Tiger's sick bucket still in the back, and Squirrel's horde of empty juice drink cartons still squished all around the back seats, along with the blackened and dried banana skins and orange peel. The fact that I'd left the Tom Tom system in the glove compartment shows me that it's all about presentation.

Well, thanks to the state of us, and the fact there's sod all to nick, I don't anticipate any Burglar Bill while we're out in Kent. But, just in case, Shark's left her painting things all over the floor, Tiger's burying some cereal behind the TV screen and Squirrel's taken off the door handle. And Burglar Bill's probably thinking it's just not worth it.